Myths and Facts - Impaired Driving

Myth: Drugs don't affect a person's ability to drive.

Fact:Driving requires a person to divide their attention among many tasks at the same time. A driver must be constantly addressing a variety of issues including:

  • Accelerating
  • Braking
  • Maintaining a constant speed
  • Steering
  • Maintaining proper lane position
  • Making safe lane changes
  • Manually operating signal lights and other fixtures
  • Monitoring the instrument panel
  • Dealing with information on road signs
  • Reacting to traffic signals
  • Monitoring the rear view and side mirrors
  • Being attentive to other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists
Drugs (including alcohol) diminish a person's ability to divide their attention among these required tasks, rendering the driver unable to safely operate the motor vehicle. Too often, the result is unnecessary death and injury on our highways.

Myth: If I stay away from hard liquor and stick with beer, I'll be fine.

Fact: Alcohol is alcohol. One 12-ounce glass of beer has as much alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of whiskey or a 5-ounce glass of wine.

Myth: I have a high tolerance, so I can drink more and drive without being impaired.

Fact: Any amount of alcohol can impair a person's ability to drive and increase their chances of being in a collision. Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is the concentration of alcohol in a person's blood. Even if you are well below the legal limit of 0.08 BAC, you can still be impaired and face serious consequences such as losing your license, imprisonment or fines.

Myth: Impaired driving charges are for alcohol only.

Fact: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant but is only one type of drug that can impair someone's ability to operate a motor vehicle. Other central nervous system depressants which can cause impairment include anti-anxiety tranquilizers, anti-depressants, anti-psychotic medications, and benzodiazepines.

Central nervous system stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and ecstasy also have the same divided attention effects even though the driver may exhibit different behavioural patterns than the driver impaired by depressants. Other categories of drugs which will impair a person's ability to operate a motor vehicle safely include inhalants, cannabis, hallucinogens and narcotic analgesics such as oxycodone and hydromorphone. Many of these are not illegal to possess by prescription or authorization from Health Canada but if they are causing impairment, the driver can be charged and convicted of impaired driving.

Myth: Black coffee or a cold shower helps you sober up.

Fact: Neither coffee or a cold shower can get rid of the alcohol in your system. There is no quick cure, only time will help you sober up.

Myth: Police can't tell if I've been smoking pot or doing other drugs.

Fact: Nova Scotia presently has more than 50 trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). DREs use an evaluation procedure for determining impairment due to drugs or alcohol that checks for the presence of seven classes of drugs. DREs determine whether or not there is impairment and can also identify the category of drugs present in the driver's body. It's not unusual for a DRE to be able to identify a number of categories of drugs in one person. You can be charged for impaired driving if your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is impaired by drugs other than alcohol.

Myth: If I drive while impaired, I won't get caught.

Fact: The province's Integrated Impaired Driving Enforcement Unit patrols the province and targets impaired drivers by setting up checkpoints. The province is also involved is a number of checkpoint initiatives throughout the year which include participation from every police agency in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia has more than 30 trained Drug Recognition Experts and a full time Impaired Driving Countermeasures Coordinator. The Coordinator is responsible for tracking impaired driving trends and provides training in conducting alcohol and drug impaired investigations to law enforcement.

Other provincial initiatives to fight impaired driving include the Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program, Graduated Licensing Program, Impaired driving campaign, and legislation introduced to increase penalties for Low Blood Alcohol Content. The province, along with other safety stakeholders redeveloped the international award-winning PARTY (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma) program and DVD, which help teenagers understand the consequences of taking risks, such as driving while impaired or speeding.

Q&A - Impaired Driving in Nova Scotia

How many crashes involve alcohol, etc. in Nova - most recent years??

(Preliminary) 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Fatal Collisions 71 75 61 76 63 79
Fatalities (people) 80 88 70 90 72 86
Fatal Collisions with Alcohol Involvement 23 26 18 15 18 21
Fatalities with Alcohol Involvement 25 30 20 20 19 25
% of Fatalities Involving Alcohol 31 34 39 22 26 29

What is the cost of getting caught for impaired driving?

The financial cost for a person charged and convicted of impaired driving after trial is an estimated $32,000, including legal fees, fines, license reinstatement, the alcohol interlock program and insurance. The cost of insuring a vehicle in the high-risk insurance category can be up to $20,000 over the minimum of 3-6 years.

What this doesn't include is the fact that the offender will have a criminal record which affects things like travel and employment opportunities. It also doesn't include the pain and suffering of all those involved.

Everyone charged with impaired driving must complete an addiction assessment and education program before they can be eligible for license reinstatement. This program has a fee that must be paid by the consumer. Introduced in September 2008, the Alcohol Interlock program is another fee for service program that includes device installment, monitoring, assessment for addiction issues and ongoing counselling as required. Decisions about who can access this program are made by Registry of Motor Vehicles, however, if it is someone's second impaired driving charge, participation is mandatory.

How many of the fatalities were not wearing seatbelts?

Seatbelts were not worn in 43% of occupant fatalities in 2006. It was 40% in 2005.

What are the main road safety issues facing the province?

Speed, or driving too fast for conditions, was a factor in almost half of road fatalities. Alcohol was a factor in 25 per cent, and inattention was reported a factor in 23 per cent of all deaths. Of the 54 people who died in a car or truck, 20 (37 per cent) were not wearing seatbelts.

How does Nova Scotia compare nationally on road safety?

Recent reports published by Transport Canada show that Nova Scotia places second among Canadian provinces with the fewest road fatalities and road injuries per capita.

These are encouraging figures. However, across the country, while the number of road fatalities has fallen over the years, impaired driving, along with unbelted occupants, speed and inattention are continuing problems.